In Her Own Hand is a play using Mary Hallock Foote’s words from letters written in the late nineteenth century depicting her life in America’s West. The play will be presented at the Center for Arts and Theater in Ivins, Utah on September 15, 2018. Tickets are available at www.KayentaArts.com.
Mary Hallock Foote, referred to as Molly, was raised a Quaker in Milton, New York and was commissioned as a sketch-artist illustrator for Harper’s Weekly magazine, and for poets and authors of the day, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne for whom she illustrated his book, The Scarlet Letter. Her sketches were carved onto wood blocks for reprinting, and her writings includes novels, short stories, children’s books, articles, and letters.
Following her marriage to Arthur Foote, a mining and water engineer, Molly moved west and expanded her illustrations and writing to describe life in mining towns in New Almaden near San Francisco; Leadville, Colorado; and Grass Valley, California.
Nancy Rushforth, retired Associate Professor of Humanities and Integrated Studies from Utah Valley University, and Kim Abunuwara perform the play based on edited letters between Molly and her life-long friend Helena de Kay Gilder, who resided on the east coast while Molly lived out west. Rushforth explains the play’s rationale to “affirm as factual the life of Mary Hallock Foote” and to examine “a significant century-old correspondence between two women living on opposite coasts, but never separated in spirit. I have found in this reminiscence and correspondence a most valuable historical record, a rare example of the nineteenth century, western feminine experience, and a valuable literary expression.”
Rushforth asserts, “My interest in Mary Hallock Foote began forty years ago when I first read Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Angle of Repose. I read it as fiction, and was fascinated by the realistic female character the author created in Susan Burling Ward. I was thoroughly captivated by this female protagonist.” Although Stegner fictionalized character names and some events, he drew much of his story from Molly’s unpublished writings.
Foote’s autobiography, A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West, further confirms the scope of Stegner’s borrowed material.
Rushforth’s research on the historical Mary Hallock Foote led her to a Leadville library with the complete collection of Foote’s novels and short stories, and to Stanford University’s Special Collections Library holding twelve file boxes containing 700 of Mary Hallock Foote’s letters. Rushforth characterizes the handwritten correspondence as, “original letters written on orange-brown paper, difficult to read after one hundred years of preservation.” Additionally, Rushforth reviewed a box containing typed copies of letters for which she received permissions to examine and quote, thereby, contributing materials for her Master’s Thesis and the basis for her two-woman play.
Rushforth presents Mary Foote as, “An educated woman living in the cultural and physical harshness of early mining camps, her voice provides an identity with our past and secures an identity with ourselves.” Separated from family and friends, Mary Foote chronicled her experiences and feelings, and connects to us today through what was an acceptable nineteenth century outlet for women — letters.
In Her Own Hand will be performed September 15, 2018, 7:30 p.m. at the Center for the Arts and Theatre in the Kayenta community, 881 Kayenta Parkway, Ivins, Utah. Two workshops to “Inspire and Empower” led by Rushforth and Abunuwara will be held Sunday, September 16 at 11 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. For more information and tickets for the play ($15 each) and workshops ($10 each) go to www.KayentaArts.com.